Lawmaker calls for tougher screening of foreign exchange hosts

Dale Leary and Marta San Jose, his former exchange student, who then became his wife, are shown on her public Facebook page.
Dale Leary and Marta San Jose, his former exchange student, who then became his wife, are shown on her public Facebook page.

Amid a police investigation into sex abuse allegations, State Rep. Daisy Baez called on the federal government Monday to bolster screening for families who host foreign exchange students.

Baez announced that she has filed legislation asking Congress to adopt tougher national standards for background checks. The call for heightened screening comes after Miami-Dade police accused a Cutler Bay man of seducing and marrying a Spanish exchange student, then sexually abusing her younger sister.

“No parent, here or in another country, should have to fear for the safety of their child while trying to provide them with a better education and a good opportunity,” Baez said in a statement, calling the current background check process “inadequate”.

The State Department requires exchange programs to screen host families through personal references, an in-person interview and criminal background checks, but does not require that the background checks include FBI-based fingerprint searches. The loophole appears to have enabled Cutler Bay resident Dale Leary to host underage exchange students despite a previous felony conviction for sexual assault.

Leary and his longtime first wife, Claudia Leary, a Miami-Dade schools administrator, hosted Spanish exchange student Marta San Jose in their home several years ago when San Jose was 16. Just days after San Jose turned 18, Leary divorced his wife and married the exchange student. Then he and San Jose lured San Jose’s 14-year-old sister to Miami, where the couple sexually abused her, according to police.

Miami-Dade police arrested Leary and San Jose in June. Leary committed suicide after posting bail as police widened their investigation to include a series of underage female exchange students he hosted in his home.

San Jose appeared in court in mid-July and argued through an attorney that she had been “brainwashed” and should not be charged. Prosecutors are expected to announce Tuesday whether they plan to charge San Jose.

Leary is one of numerous hosts accused of abusing foreign students in Florida and across the country. In urging the federal government to better protect exchange students, Baez joins the Miami-Dade School Board, which voted in July to add enhanced screening to its federal legislative program.

Miami Herald staff writer David Ovalle contributed to this report